I’m chatting here in my virtual living room today with Julie Carobini, author of what she calls “beach-lit” novels: Chocolate Beach, Truffles by the Sea, and—her latest—Sweet Waters. As always, what I say is in italic type, like this, and what Julie says will be in a plain font.
Hi, Julie. Thanks for doing this interview for BeTheStory.com.
You’re welcome! Thanks for inviting me, Tim!
You’ve said that the sea is a demonstration of God’s creativity. I imagine this is what inspired you to write “beach-lit”? (I almost feel like you chose that tag to correct people like me, who was calling Chocolate Beach “Christian chick-lit.” :-))
Hey well, don’t take offense, Tim. No correcting meant on my part!
Sorry. No offense taken. (big :-D) I just was wondering why “beach-lit”?
I began using the term beach-lit around the time that my first book, Chocolate Beach, was released because my heroine, Bri, was more of the “anti-chick.” By that I mean she wasn’t the usual pink-clad gal who loves name-brand shoes and high-end fashions. She was a working mom who preferred flip-flops and casual hoodies— and of course, being at the beach.
So instead of focusing on the “chick” I focused on the location, the beach. More than that, though, my stories tell of how God offers “Waves of Grace” to those who love and serve him.
Right, that makes sense. I remember enjoying Chocolate Beach, because Bri’s character felt so down-to-earth to me, like an honest-to-goodness, average person. What’s the most significant difference between Sweet Waters and your earlier books?
In my earlier books, I let my sense of humor off its leash. Lots of asides were woven through those books. I love Bri and Gaby from my first two novels, but with Sweet Waters I wanted to focus a bit more on some serious, relational issues. So I reigned in the humor somewhat and allowed myself to delve more into the serious side while still writing an entertaining tale.
Your stories are about people and their relationships.
Absolutely! My books are more character-driven than plot-driven.
That’s one of the things, of course, that I love. Do you follow a process for creating your characters?
I’ve tried a couple of techniques for creating characters, such as interviewing them and writing their profiles. (Susan Meissner sent me the questions she asks of her characters.) Getting to know them is more than asking where they work and what kind of clothing styles they prefer, though. It’s understanding what pushes their buttons and why. The answers often lie in their fears. For example, Bri Stone from Chocolate Beach feared rejection— which drove her to do wacky things. Gaby Flores from Truffles by the Sea was afraid to trust. And in Sweet Waters, Tara is afraid to learn the truth about her family (which makes her want to run).
That’s one of the most fundamental principles of characterization. So how do you know what your characters fear, or more generally, what they feel, or how they think?
To figure out how my characters feel and think, I often read articles and visit psychology websites. When I wrote Sweet Waters, I consulted with several experts on birth order so I could figure out how each person would react to the various situations I put them in. I’m the oldest of my three siblings, so I could personally relate to some of Tara’s feelings of being overwhelmed with responsibility. I often drew from my own well when writing her.
I think we all find ourselves doing that.
And Tim, sometimes I just have to sit back, shut my eyes, and picture the scene with all the sights, sounds, smells that would be in place in a real situation. This is so helpful when I’m stuck and it’s often how I learn that a character has a twitch in their cheek or chews gum too much 😉
Do ever feel yourself seeing your characters as real people?
Of course! I talk to most of my characters (and snub the antagonists ;)). Doesn’t everybody?
Probably. I know I do it all the time, sometimes to the point that it gets in they way of the story, when I have to put them through hell, and I don’t want to, because I care about them too much. Do you ever find yourself in that situation?
Unfortunately, yes. So I often must make it worse on them in the editing stage.
So do you have any tricks that help you distance yourself from your characters, while you’re creating their story?
I don’t really distance myself from them, but I do have a talk with them and tell them to “man up” (or “woman up” :)). I reassure them that they will grow and learn from the process and then promise them a happy ending. I do write commercial fiction, you know, Tim.
You don’t have to sell me on happy endings. 🙂 I love happy endings. And I love that you tell your characters that they’ll grow because of what happens to them. The trying experiences really do make us grow, both as a person and in our relationships with others. And when you realize that, your stories can be more than just fun tales; they can be inspirational as well.
Let’s switch gears a little. As a work-at-home Dad, I’ve found it difficult, stressful even, writing on a deadline, because family always seems to get in the way. What are some of the tactics you employ to make steady, daily progress on your novels, with the built-in distractions of being a work-at-home Mom?
I know what you mean. I’m so into my kids’ lives that it’s a wonder I can get anything else done. But I do.
First, I have to “get into” the story I’m about to write. By that I mean falling in love with it and the characters so much that in those small snatches of mind time that we parents find—making dinner, showering, driving—I converse with my hero/heroine. And I keep a notepad handy, even in church, and write pieces of brilliance when they pop into my head. And I don’t ever toss those scraps of paper until I’ve had a chance to type them into a NOTES document on my computer.
I use the “notes” feature on my cell phone, and can often be seen tapping away on it in the back pew in church. Haven’t had anyone look sideways at me yet. 🙂
Then when the kids are in school, I open up that document and really look at what’s in there and apply those thoughts, conversations, and witty pieces of dialogue to my work in progress.
And I pray a lot!
A wonderful note to end on. Thanks for such a delightful interview.